Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Serenity Forge
Developer: Serenity Forge (EU), Atmos Games (US)
Release Date: July 16, 2020


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PS4 Review - 'Neversong'

by Redmond Carolipio on Sept. 28, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Once upon a time there was a little boy named Pete who slept peacefully in a coma. When he opened his eyes, he found himself in a nightmare.

It seems like an understatement to simply call Neversong just another dark and freaky game. It packs a lot of weirdness into a few hours, but it also uses the lure of whimsy and childlike imagery to grab a player by the heartstrings and pull them into its pit of creativity, where they find despair, challenge and even a little comedy.

It's certainly not the first game to do this: Most people are familiar with emo side-scroller puzzlefests like Limbo or Inside, which visited disturbing, quiet pain onto its protagonists and the players. This also isn't exclusive to somber worlds, either; Ori and the Blind Forest used bright colors, cute characters and a world of wonder as a way to soften the blows dealt to you by its bouts of withering difficulty.

Neversong's tone is sadness and loss. That's not a critical interpretation — the game flat out tells you you're about to play a tale focused on these themes, and its opening start-screen image is the form of a faceless little girl sitting in a dangling cage. Letting your actual little ones play this game might lead to nightmares, strange questions or the need for future therapy.

Before it was Neversong, this game's original title was Once Upon a Coma, which feels very on-the-nose when you hear the story setting. Through the words of classic, fairy-tale narration, you're plunged into the scenario of Peet, a somewhat meek and lonely kid who ends up becoming friends with Wren, who turns into something of a BFF/girlfriend to Peet while also coming across as something of a beloved local legend. This friendship is interrupted when Wren gets kidnapped by a mysterious figure, and Peet falls into a legitimate coma. Peet eventually wakes from his coma to find that Wren is still missing, all of the adults seem to have disappeared (leaving only a scattering of fellow neighborhood kids) and now creatures are roaming his community and the surrounding areas. A determined Peet sets out to find and rescue Wren from whomever or whatever is holding her hostage.

The one question that lived in my brain as I played was, "Is he really awake and things really are this messed up, or is this another product of his still-happening coma?" Call it natural skepticism or watching mind-fare movies like "Inception" too many times during a quarantine, but that question seems to hang in the air for the few hours it takes to wade through this increasingly strange world that developer Thomas Brush has crafted.

If you've seen Brush's past work, like Pinstripe, then you have a feeling for his beautiful, efficient and wonderfully quirky art style. For me, Neversong gave me vibes of a darkly off-kilter children's book with a little "Nightmare Before Christmas" sprinkled in. There's a delightful weirdness to all of the characters Peet encounters, like the kid who obsessively counts his jump-rope reps or the fat kid who can literally be deflated and rolled around. Peet, with his puppety, bouncy walk and floppy hair, doesn't seem to get a lot of love from the other kids, as he's known as the one who passed out when Wren got taken. He's pretty much on his own.

Peet's world generally plays like a junior Metroidvania. I use "junior" because of its small size and relative ease compared to other games, but the principles it exhibits are the same: level exploration, the gathering and discovering of places, tools and abilities, and some puzzlework that will burn a few brain cells. Some of the puzzles are funny and even a little brilliant: The aforementioned rollable fat kid, named Simeon, comes into play in a sewer level where Peet has to roll him through a variety of foul things to serve as a lure for an apron-wearing centipede creature. That creature, as it turns out, is one of the few adults Peet will face in the entire game, and it's here where you learn that the grown-ups aren't necessarily missing — they've either become monsters of varying, twisted incarnations or screaming, knife-wielding maniacs. Thankfully, Peet has a bat and music by his side.

As you travel with Peet from the village to the sewer to a cemetery to, eventually, an asylum, he'll start adding to his arsenal. His main weapon is a bat that he can swing in four directions that can eventually become upgraded to a stronger spiked version. He'll also make use of a skateboard (prepare for some downward slope/jump work), an umbrella that lets him to float down and use air streams in the ground to float up, and gloves that allow him to grasp onto vine-attached orbs that look like orange eyeballs (prepare for a few swing-and-jump exercises).

It's how Peet gets these items where the game makes its mark apart from others of similar build. Wren taught Peet how to play the piano, and it's a series of short tunes that can be played on the piano at Wren's house that unlock secret doors within the house, and within those doors are chests with key items. Those songs can only be found by encountering and defeating several boss characters (the now-monsterized adults) that Peet encounters. Every defeat leads to a song Peet can play via a combination of the directional pad and the face buttons. It's a very sweet twist that carries some sad warmth. Instead of hunting for items, Peet is looking for songs he and Wren made together.

The story is so tied to everything you do in the game, I won't risk spoiling everything, even though it's been out for a while. There are gut punches in there, to be sure. It's not a particularly difficult or long quest. The first playthrough took me a grand total of roughly three hours, and there's a trophy you can get for finishing the game in a single hour. Every fight is pretty simple, and even the final confrontation with Mr. Smile, a flying, ghoulish reaper-like dude with a nightmare-fuel voice won't be much of an issue with experienced players.

Neversong is one of those games that feels like an impactful and interactive art piece rather than the kind of title you envelop yourself in for hours and hours at a time. As with many indie projects, you can tell it was crafted with great care and a message that doesn't need a lot of time to register. I enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone looking for a little dark adventure.

Score: 7.8/10

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